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Monday 7 May 2007

He's a Chelsea Batty Boy

Hi folks.

I've not been able to stop singing that song, ever since I first heard it pumping out from a boogie box on the corner of Avenell Road, where someone was flooging the latest Away Boyz CD, on our way home from the Fulham game the other week. I have to admit that both Róna and I were giggling away as we heard the amusing (if a little homophobic) lyrics.

Most Gooners were disappointed that Cashley bottled it on Sunday, apparently not even bothering to turn up. I've not seen the papers, so I'm not sure what his excuse was, but in Cashley's shoes, I think I'd have preferred to face the music (so to speak) and get the bulk of the abuse over and done with, even if it was only to spend the afternoon on the bench, as to my mind, he's only putting it off until next season, when I imagine the welcome will be no less hostile.

Personally I would've preferred to see Cashley in the starting line-up, if only from a footballing perspective, as it seems to me that Wayne Bridge has shown far more attacking instincts when he's appeared for the Blues recently and I thought he might be more of a threat to us than Cole.

The annoying thing was that at the start of this season, I was convinced and I think the consensus of opinion was that we had got the better end of the Cole/Gallas deal. Whereas now I am nowhere near as certain that this is the case. My opinion hasn't been coloured by anything that Cole has done on the pitch, or the fact that Gallas has spent large parts of the season on the treatment bench. There are many who appear to have their doubts that Gallas and Kolo can work as an effective partnership at centre-back but my concerns are not related to his ability.

Whether or not these two can be a long term solution at centre-back remains to be seen, but I think there can be no doubt that Willie is blessed with the natural ability that has seen many pundits label him as one of the best in the business. However, up until now I have tended to ignore all the gossip about Gallas having an attitude problem but after his performance on Sunday, I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that perhaps there is a fire causing all that smoke.

Gallas was far from the only culprit on Sunday, guilty of the crime of showing far too little fervour for my liking. In fact, there were short bursts where Willie showed signs of really wanting to stick it to his former employers and in truth, it would be far easier to list those Arsenal players who were really up for it (Fabregas for example is one of the few who comes to mind, constantly waving his hands to encourage the crowd) than to run through all the names of those who were already focused on packing their bags for their summer holyers.

Nevertheless it was those instances that bothered me, when Gallas went haring forward in various fruitless attempts to try and prove that he could be as influential all over the pitch for the Arsenal, as Essien actually was for Chelsea. I was a little annoyed to see him ambling back as the game continued, demonstrating little or no urgency, leaving Kolo, Clichy and Eboué to take care of any defensive business, as if it was nothing to do with him.

I hate to say it, but the more I see of Gallas, the more signs I notice of a somewhat selfish streak which doesn't best suit a team game. There were a few other instances on Sunday that left me questioning his desire, where for example the ball was there to be won and despite being some distance from Willie, I would guess he was the nearest Arsenal player. At one point, I am sure I saw him wave at one of his younger defensive team mates, indicating that they should tear after the ball and try to win possession, instead of taxing his older legs chasing it.

Personally, if I was Kolo, Clichy or Eboué, I'd soon get pissed off at a new arrival at the club expecting me to do all the running, while they only threw their metaphoric weight around and it's easy to envisage that this sort of attitude is likely to have a negative effect on team spirit. Chelsea fans have a lot to say about Gallas and as I've already said, I've tended to ignore all of their derogatory gossip. But in light of what I've seen from him in recent weeks and in light of how little cover Chelsea have had this season in the absence of Terry and Carvalho, it occurs to me that Mourinho must have very obvious non-footballing reasons for being prepared to allow the only feasible natural replacement for either of his two first choice centre-backs to leave?

Meanwhile I've had Charlton v Spurs on the telly whilst I've been finishing this piece and I imagine it must be hard for Hammers fans, watching this game and being up for our North London neighbours. Mind you, we've had a little taste this week of what life must be like for our Spurs "friends", all the time, with nothing left to play for but the possibility of putting the mockers on our rivals title prospects and I tell you, personally speaking, it's not much fun. But then as ever in football, there's always next season, or in our case I guess we could always turn to suppporting the ladies

Big Love

No matter how much satisfaction there was to be gained from ending Chelsea's Premiership challenge, I left our new stadium on Sunday evening, for the last time this season, feeling more than a little disheartened. When I got home and rewound the Sky gadget to hear the pundits pile such slavering post-match praise upon the Blues gallant second half performance, I realised why I felt so perturbed.

Sure there was always likely to be an appreciable difference in the commitment levels of a Chelsea team desperately clinging to their title prospects and an Arsenal side with so little to play for. Yet there was a time when the mere tag of top London dog was sufficient motivation for the Gunners and a fired up home crowd would be guaranteed to generate a cauldron like atmosphere in which there would be no room for any hint of end of seasonitis.

The pre-match mood certainly seemed suitable for just such an occasion, with a funky "Ashley Cole is a Chelsea batty boy" tune pumping out of the sound systems of the various watering holes around our new stadium, where Gooners were queuing ten deep at the bar to quench their thirst on a warm spring afternoon. And with the opportunistic hawkers flogging their inflatable mobile phones, there seemed every chance our season might end on an appropriate bang.

However sadly, once inside the ground our crowd seems to struggle to generate that really intense atmosphere of the sort that served Liverpool so well at Anfield a few nights earlier. I don't know whether it's due to elements of the design of the stadium, or something in the make up of our sixty thousand punters but while sections of the stadium get fired up at various points during a game, it rarely seems to spread so that the entire arena is one roaring, intimidating twelfth man.

Don't get me wrong, I've been at Anfield several times in recent season, when a disappointing deathly hush has fallen on the home crowd and it's been no less library like than our place. It's not an isolated problem, as we've been teasing "where's your famous atmosphere" at all the most renowned kops around the country for some years now and I'm certain that eventually a big enough occasion will come along at our place that will really raise the roof and even the corporate dead.

The important difference as far as I can tell is that the Scousers seems to instinctively know when they are required to do their bit and they react accordingly to create a good old-fashioned atmosphere, of the sort that had me feeling envious last Tuesday night. Whereas sitting in our comfy seats, it seems to me that we have far too many punters who don't seem to appreciate that they have a part to play, by creating the sort of intensity which can actually influence proceedings on the pitch. You'd have to credit the Liverpool crowd for creating the cracking atmosphere that inspired last week's triumph, whereas to date our crowd has only ever reacted to events on the pitch.

In which respect, they haven't given us too much to get excited about this season. It just about says it all that the high point of Sunday afternoon was the euphoric celebrations of ref Wiley's acknowledgment that Baptista had been brought down in the box and his subsequent sending off of Boulahrouz. And apart from his four-goal haul at Anfield in the Carling Cup, it just about sums up Baptista's ineffectiveness that this was perhaps his most significant impact on our season.

I might have instinctively cheered at the time, but personally I wasn't too pleased that Wiley sent off Chelsea's least effective player, knowing only too well that the resulting indignation was only likely to act as increased motivation for the ten that remained and so it proved.

I suppose Arsène is duty bound to do so, but I can hardly recall a press conference where Le Prof hasn't referred to the spirit within his current squad. Well there wasn't much evidence of it in the second half on Sunday, where they were presented with a perfect opportunity to reap some long awaited revenge on a Chelsea side that has made Gooner lives so miserable, with our monotonous diet of crow these past few seasons. I'm the last person to be lauding the Blues, but I wish this Arsenal side had half the spirit that we saw from Michael Essien with his colossal second half performance.

Standing opposite us on the touchline, gesticulating like a nutter, Wenger looked none too pleased that the majority of his team were seemingly content just to see this game out. While our much esteemed manager might not be found wanting, it would appear as if Wenger is struggling to transmit the same levels of desire amongst some of his troops.

I enjoy watching us produce those intricate, one touch passing patterns as much as the next lover of the beautiful game being played at its best. But as has been the case for far too long now, we've made life much too easy for our opponents, as they need only frustrate Plan A, knowing only too well that the Arsenal have no Plan B. If ever we were guilty of tactical naivety, Sunday seemed a case in point, at least from where I sat.

On our wide pitch, with an extra-man and with legs tiring second-half, we should have had Chelsea chasing shadows. Yet with no natural wide men in our side and with our full-backs only showing limited ambition, instead of taking advantage of the situation, by stretching Chelsea to the limits of our large playing surface, we continued to try and pass our way through the heart of the visitor's formidable core.

By the end, there was only one team trying to win this game and sadly that wasn't the Arsenal. If you didn't know better, judging by the last half an hour, you would've thought we were the team that was down to ten and playing with only one man up front. Despite Adebayor's best efforts, there's no benefit to be gained from winning a knock down in the air, when there isn't a teammate within twenty yards.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Baptista goes back to Spain to flourish in La Liga and when/if he does, it will merely be further proof that the tempo of the game in this country makes playing in the Premiership an entirely different proposition, to producing the goods on the Continent. Personally I believe this is one of the reasons many foreign players prefer not to play in England, unless they're offered irresistible amounts of remuneration. Never mind our customarily miserable climate, if they're earning shedloads of money, winning medals and earning respect in Spain and Italy, what else would make them come over here to have to run twice as hard and to be on the receiving end of twice as many tackles? The pace of the game in this country means that success is dependent on a player having the speed of thought which is sadly lacking in Baptista.

As I lingered after the final whistle on Sunday for the players to come back out for their "lap of appreciation", I instinctively applauded with the rest of my fellow Gooners. But at the same time, I couldn't help but think that not all of them deserved such appreciation, as sadly there are far too few amongst them from whom I get the sense that the Arsenal means as much as it does to me!

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Anonymous said...

Gallas and Kolo will gell together. Note that Gallas was out for a lomg time through injury which did not give time for the two of them to play a lot of games together. It was only in the last couple of months that a settled back four was established with 3 of the 4 having time out through injury.
Next season will be different. Wait and see!